President of the Jamaica Coffee Exporters’ Association (JCEA) Norman Grant has welcomed the support of Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr to improve production in the coffee industry, while pointing to opportunities to innovate with value-added products and boost exports.
While noting that he is “energised” by the minister’s recent sectoral debate presentation in Parliament and meetings with the JCEA and Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulation Authority (JACRA), Grant has also welcomed a challenge from the minister to target one million boxes of coffee beans over the next five years. However, Grant shared with Jamaica Observer that the industry had set itself half that target.
“Realistically, based on the figures we’re working on, we are looking to target moving up from 220,000 boxes per year to between 450,000 and 500,000 boxes,” he outlined.
“We know that the coffee industry can generate US$100 million for the Jamaican economy in a period of between five and seven years if we are able to put in the prerequisite investment we are looking for,” Grant explained.
In the past, the JCEA and JACRA have collaborated on proposals to the Government for funding of a programme to resuscitate the coffee industry to 2004 levels when production of the bean reached a high of 530,000 boxes. Both organisations estimate that funding the programme would amount to $1 billion over five years.
“From a policy position, the issue now is to work out funding modalities,” Grant told Sunday Finance.
In the interim, both JCEA and JACRA are pressing on with various aspects of their proposal and have begun working towards establishing nurseries that will distribute 300,000 coffee seedlings over the next three years. The second stage of the project will require the procurement of fertilisers and other inputs for distribution to coffee farmers.
But given the investment needed to embark on these two components, Grant said he is hopeful for an “injection” from the Government within the next three months to underwrite the initiatives within the current crop season.
“Over the last two years we got $80 million, so we’re hoping that the minister will find some funds under the Protected Incentive Programme to provide another injection of fertilisers,” Grant stated.
When asked about the aging roster of farmers in the agricultural subsector, he noted that there is now an active recruitment drive targeting both women and youth. He added that this challenge will have to be addressed along with duty-free concessions, lines of credit and land availability to farmers.
At the macro level, as the JCEA targets higher levels of exports of Jamaican coffee, the organisation in collaboration with JACRA and Jamaica Promotions Corporation have commissioned a study on the global market position of the commodity. The research should highlight the markets in which Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is to be sold and the strategies needed to maximise expansion.
“We will pursue all possible opportunities…but as soon as the study is finalised, then that will help us direct some of what we intend on proceeding with, going forward,” Grant said.
Currently, Jamaica’s main coffee export markets are Japan, North America and Europe. But Grant said that both China and India are emerging markets that the JCEA is now targeting for increased exports.